Taking a Moment to Celebrate

I created a new system where I keep track of wins I get in life with paper stars. It is a way to remind me of my progress so far through physical data visualization.

Jane Zhang - Jan 26, 2021


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An unhealthy perspective

I was having a conversation with an old co-worker and we were catching up on life. I said I’ve put out some projects and was able to achieve small things ever since I became independent. And then, he said: “you need to celebrate!”. And I was confused, I didn’t think I did anything worth celebrating. To be honest, I was so shocked he said I should celebrate. And this is how I’ve been diminishing my progress in life for the past decade.

It was rare for me to get any form of a celebration as a kid. Both my parents worked hard as immigrants in a new country. They owned their business and worked around the clock. Lately, I’ve come to recognize how I only see the things that don’t work out, and not the things that do work out. It’s a perspective where you filter out the light, and only see the darkness. It’s not a good lens to live with, it’s incredibly unhealthy. I’ve continuously thought of myself as a failure. I never thought I was good enough or deserved anything.

As the world entered the new year, I wondered to myself how could I be more positive. I was able to accomplish so much, but I didn’t take the time to acknowledge them. I thought about my old co-worker and wondered how could I celebrate more in my life. I am part of a professional Slack group that has a channel where we could share ‘wins’ we get. Whether it’s getting our taxes filed, or crossing the finish line for a new project, or patting ourselves on the back for taking care of our health, we would share it. I wasn’t good at posting in the channel, but I started to get better over time. When I post on the channel, the post gets lost over time and I forget about it. So, I came up with an idea that makes it more permanent.

Positive messages in stars

When I was in school, I used to have a roommate who was obsessed with a K-pop group called SHINee. She moved away to study abroad and she hosted a farewell party before she left. I wondered what I could get her as a farewell gift. I knew that her favourite shape was the star. So, I folded paper stars for her. In each one, I wrote a positive quote that members from SHINee have said. I told her she could pop the stars open whenever she needed encouragement.

As a kid, everyone in my school loved to fold paper stars. It was a very popular gift to give others. I used to get really colourful paper to fold and would put them in really nice glass bottles. There used to be so many varieties too. Now, it’s a lot harder to find them in shops as the craft faded.

We used to fold stars and put them in these cute bottles as gifts for friends.


Visualizing my wins

Folding stars is a very cathartic experience for me. I used to fold stars when I was extremely stressed out. There was a period during an old job when I was very jittery. To calm myself down, I folded paper stars. Even if I am not stressed out now, I enjoy folding stars as a way of winding down.

Probably about 70% of the stars in this jug was made when I was stressed out from an old job.


I took the same idea of how I folded the stars with a message in them for my friend and came up with a new system to celebrate every win. There are three categories: little, medium, and big.

  • Big wins = 6 stars
  • Medium wins = 4 stars
  • Little wins = 2 stars

Every win has a patterned star, and the rest are made of solid-coloured stars. This way, I can keep track of the number of wins I’ve had. I set it up this way because I don’t have a lot of the patterned paper, but have a lot of the solid-coloured ones.

Patterned paper.


Patterned stars.


Solid-coloured paper.


Solid-coloured stars.


In each patterned star, I write the type of win by labeling it as 2, 4, or 6 (little, medium, or big respectively). Then I write the date of the win. Finally, I include a small note on what the win was.

A little win is something that I have the most control over and I could easily repeat. For example waking up on time several days in a row, or sticking to my exercise routine. A medium win is something I have moderate control over, but is rare to come by. For example receiving my first ko-fi donation from a fan. A big win is something I have worked on over a long period of time and it might have a high chance of failure. It’s the feeling you get where you can let out a huge sigh of relief when you are done. You feel lighter when you complete it. An example is completing and publishing a long-term project.

What I write on the sheet before I fold the star


Changing how I see my efforts

It’s still hard to acknowledge my wins now. Sometimes I pause and wonder if it’s worth celebrating. My criteria is if it was hard to do and I was able to pull it off, then it’s worth to take a moment to celebrate. Even if it wasn’t an end goal that was achieved. For example, if I took a chance or a risk for something, I would consider that a win. Trying something new and taking that first step is really half the battle. Whether or not if it works out is the rest of the story.

It’s nice that I can now glance at my wins whenever I want. It reminds me of the good things I’ve accomplished. It’s a reminder that I am making progress and that I have value. It’s still early in the year and I’ve already starting filling it up with stars. I might need a bigger bottle in a couple of months.


My name is Jane, I am an independent data visualization designer based in Toronto. I create print products that solve specific user problems. I write on my blog to help me reflect on lessons I learn as I walk on the dataviz path. If you learned something new or useful, then please consider supporting my work.